RICHARD MARLES: It will provide a first response volunteer capability within Samoa. During the tsunami, the efforts of the Samoan people and the government were really remarkable in terms of the immediate response to that event and indeed the reconstruction since and much of that was done by volunteers, but this is really providing those volunteers with the necessary training in first aid, and recovery in the sorts of crisis that they will be dealing with so that they can undertake that in an emergency capacity, and it’s a capacity which has not been had by Samoa before and it was a really positive thing to be able to participate in coming out of what was such a tragic event.
COMPERE: If we could talk about the Samoan reconstruction efforts. There were some claims raised in the New Zealand media last month that the international aid hasn't been used effectively, that parts of the island are still ravaged and victims are still waiting on homes. What were your impressions of the reconstruction efforts?
RICHARD MARLES: Look, I actually think, I am aware of that report and I think it was rubbish actually. Looking at what has been done in Samoa in such a short period of time, it is amazing, it really is and it is hard to imagine aid money and money being donated in response to that tragedy being spent better. There are large parts of the tsunami-affected area which have been reconstructed. It’s not to say that the effort is complete by any means. It will take more than a year to recover from such a traumatic natural disaster, but enormous progress has been made. We went to Lalomanu Beach which was completely ravaged by the tsunami and you look at the pictures that were taken immediately after the tsunami and you look at Lalomanu Beach now and it is genuinely amazing.
There are fales that have been rebuilt, there are businesses which were engaged in tourism which were utterly destroyed on that day, which are now back engaged in tourism and most importantly, there are tourists there and I think the Samoan Government have been heroic in the way in which they have gone about their reconstruction efforts and as an aid donor, I don't think we could have wanted for a better partner in putting in place that assistance.
COMPERE: And you're in Noumea today. What’s on the agenda there?
RICHARD MARLES: Yeah, we were very keen to include New Caledonia as part of this trip. New Caledonia is - arguably it’s our closest neighbour. Our mission in Noumea is the closest post that there is to Canberra, so we are - New Caledonia is the very closest of neighbours, but I think over the years, it has probably not been in the Australian consciousness as it should be and this is really trying to say to New Caledonia that we do regard them as very important. They are a significant place within the region, they are a significant economy within the region and we want to turn what is a geographically close relationship into a really close friendship and I think that is a message which has been appreciated here.
I mean the other interesting thing about New Caledonia, is of course the Noumea Accord, which is seeing New Caledonia look a more autonomous existence from France, although there may well be at the end of the day association with France as well. But whatever the outcome of that process is it is certainly one which is going to be interesting for the region and we're very keen to say to New Caledonia that we stand next to them as friends in that process no matter what the outcome and what we're hoping for is that it is a very peaceful process and one which gives rise to a good outcome for the New Caledonian people.
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